The Yankees return a largely similar roster from 2018, meaning the difference this season could be based on the maturation of manager Aaron Boone.
In 2018, Boone was handed the reigns to a team that had just advanced to the ALCS, only to lose in seven games. While the Yankees might have been a surprise in 2017, the expectations heaped on Boone's team were as high as ever.
Despite winning 100 regular-season games in 2018, the Yankees were ousted a round earlier than 2017 and worse by the Red Sox, who went on to win their fourth championship in the last 15 seasons. The series loss stung the Yankees, but not enough to push the organization to splurge for one of the big names available in free agency.
Instead, the Yankees spread around salary guarantees in excess of $258 million via a trade acquisition, free-agent signings and in-house extensions. The moves have many experts and oddsmakers listing the Yankees among the favorites to win the World Series.
So, for the second straight season, Boone has a roster that is expected to do big things.
Boone flew blind in his rookie season as skipper, which provided him with a soft landing at times when his decision making skills were either slow or nonexistent. Now that Boone has a year under his belt, expectations for him will be elevated, and the safety net will be removed.
Growing up with his father in MLB clubhouses and his grandfather being a former player himself, Boone has been immersed in the game almost his entire life, but that wouldn't automatically make him a good skipper. Those experiences combined with his time as an ESPN analyst did little to prepare Boone for the minute details a manager has to deal with each inning of every game. We saw quickly how Boone's "lifetime experience" in baseball was not going to make his transition to a manager easy.
Unsurprisingly, Boone, an infielder during his 12-year MLB playing career, struggled managing the pitching staff in 2018. He was often too late to remove starting pitchers or shift from one reliever to the next. There were times, as situations unfolded, that it seemed Boone was the only one who didn't know what to do next.
It also took Boone longer than it should have to get a feel for what his pitchers could provide on a regular basis, forgetting from start to start or relief appearance to relief appearance what his pitchers' strengths and weaknesses were. Maybe worse, it didn't appear at times Boone had the capacity to grow in the department. It is possible that Boone was not provided enough assistance from his pitching coach Larry Rothschild, but the buck stops with the manager.
There were enough occasions throughout the season when it was evident Boone was simply unable to translate the daily game plan handed down from the analytics crew into actual real-time decisions. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with a front office's hands-on approach, one which provides a blueprint to the manager, as more clubs are run in this fashion than are not. However, the teams that fare best are those that make the right suggestions pregame and are then carried out without a manager's in-game hesitation.
Boone's inexperience hurt him and the club severely in the postseason, when he was outdone by the Red Sox own rookie manager, Alex Cora. The Red Sox were obviously a great team, winning 108 regular-season games, but the Yankees roster matched up well with Boston's. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Cora's handle on his team dwarfed Boone's.
Obviously, not all was bad with Boone. The Yanks didn't notch 100 victories by mistake.
Boone did win over the clubhouse, with many players suggesting that they enjoyed playing for the 46-year-old, who was obviously more relatable than his predecessor, Joe Girardi. The players may have felt a loosening of the leash in some respects from Girardi's rigid style, which can often lead to positive results.
Boone handled the media well, never shying away from his mistakes or taking credit for his decisions that panned out. Boone praised his players and stuck up for them at every turn.
When it comes down to it, the tactician aspect of being a manager is the most important one. Whether the manager is able to joke with his players or sits at a desk looking for the next advantage in a pile of statistics, receiving the most production from the players and employing them at times that will match up with their strengths leads to wins and differentiates one skipper to the next.
If Boone's trudge up the learning curve doesn't reach the top in 2019, the Yankees might once again fall short of their continuous goal to win the World Series.